May 25, 1995
Vol. 14, No. 18

current issue
archive / search

    Booth teaching prizes awarded to four graduate students

    Four graduate students who have made outstanding contributions to the instructional programs in the College have been awarded Booth Prizes for Excellence in Teaching.

    The prizes were awarded to Temby Caprio, Benjamin Houseman, Susan Liebell and Tammie Smith.

    The Booth Prizes recognize the important contributions that graduate students make to the College. The winners, who are nominated by students and faculty members, each receive a $2,000 cash award.

    The Booth Prizes were established in 1991 in honor of Wayne Booth, the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in English Language & Literature, on the occasion of his retirement.

    The awards parallel the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, which recognize distinguished teachers on the faculty.

    Temby Caprio

    Caprio (A.B.'91, A.M.'93), a third-year Ph.D. student in Germanic Studies, said she was surprised to receive the Booth Prize after only her first full year of teaching.

    Although she taught for a semester at the University of Pennsylvania after receiving her bachelor's degree, her previous teaching experience "basically taught me how to make snappy comebacks to students who didn't want to learn grammar," she said, laughing.

    This year, however, she found that her experiences as a student in the College helped her make a strong connection with the students she teaches in Elementary German 101, 102 and 103.

    "One of the things that made a difference in my teaching this year is that I literally sat where they sit not so long ago," she said. "Knowing how exciting the College can be, it means a lot to me to work with the students four times a week and to try to make the experience more than just memorizing verb paradigms. I hope we laugh at least once every class."

    Currently studying for her oral exams, Caprio will focus her dissertation work on West German feminist film culture, and she will spend next year doing research in Germany as part of the German Academic Exchange Service, a prestigious program funded by the German government.

    Benjamin Houseman

    As a first-year medical student teaching a chemistry course, Houseman not only teaches an experimental science, he almost embodies it. "According to the Chemistry Department, I'm the first person they've hired from outside the department," he said. "I'm kind of an experiment."

    Apparently the chemistry was right: Houseman went out of his way for the students, providing extra review sessions and problem sets that the students really appreciated.

    "Teaching is one of the things that gives me the most pleasure. I enjoy helping people understand and learn. My philosophy is that you must be able to communicate at a level they can grasp. You start at the students' level and build from there," he said.

    Originally from rural Hanover, Ill., Houseman taught four semesters of organic chemistry while he was an undergraduate at Harvard, where he received his B.S. in chemistry in 1994. During that time, he realized that while he enjoyed what he called "pure" science, he wanted more human involvement. "Medicine is a nice synthesis," he said. He hopes to continue teaching in his medical career.

    Susan Liebell

    Liebell has taught The Politics of the Environment, a course in the Environmental Studies concentration. Liebell, who expects to receive her Ph.D. in political science in 1996, said the course is related to her research, which examines liberal democratic theory and its relation to environmental issues.

    "What I am interested in is the question of how a liberal democratic society, in which people make decisions based on individual self-interest, can also act on collective issues such as the environment," she said.

    Liebell said she encourages students to come to class with challenging, well-prepared arguments. She often has students make oral presentations at the beginnings of class sessions as a means of sharpening their cognitive skills.

    "I don't want them to be vessels, waiting for me to fill them up with knowledge," Liebell said. "I want them to be able to look at the material we are studying, understand the argument that the author is making and be able to question it.

    "No matter what fields students choose to pursue, I want all U of C graduates to be able to think independently," she said. Liebell received her B.A. from Queens College, City University of New York, in 1986.

    Tammie Smith

    Smith comes by her pedagogical talents naturally: her parents and grandparents were all teachers. As an undergraduate at Williams College, where she majored in both chemistry and English and received her B.A. in 1993, she taught chemistry and was a "peer health educator" on campus health issues. Last fall, while teaching Immunology here, she picked one of those health issues to focus on, but from a scientific perspective.

    "HIV was the topic for our discussion sessions, and I went out and chose original research papers, reviews and press clippings for the students to read," said Smith, an M.D./Ph.D. Pathology student in the Medical Scientists Training Program. "We tried to look at many different aspects of the problem, and as the students learned more immunology, we went more into the scientific aspects."

    At the end of the quarter, she asked the students to re-evaluate and discuss what should be done about AIDS in the United States.

    "It was interesting," she said. "The consensus was that scientists need to support education and that the people teaching about AIDS need a better understanding of the science. The public will only take precautions if people can be made to understand the problem -- and why there is no magic vaccine in their future."

    Smith said the reason her discussion sessions worked so well is that the material was related to the course lectures, but separate. "It contributed to the students' knowledge from a different angle," she said. "I was able to tailor to their interests, rather than just review. I was given a lot of freedom."